GREENSBORO, N.C. – A group of college students streamed down from campus, chanting among other things, “This is what Democracy looks like,” a popular refrain chanted by young protesters in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown Jr. this summer by a police officer.
Bennett, an all-women’s historically black college has been active in civil and voting rights for generations. This year is no different.
“All elections matter to Bennett Belles,” said Roz Fuse-Hall, Bennett’s president. “But in this one, we have to stand up in North Carolina to reverse the tide of constraining women’s rights and minority rights.”
Bennett has a long history as a feeder school for political leadership and counts among its alumni a host of businesswomen and elected officials, including Yvonne Johnson who became Greensboro’s first black mayor when she was elected in 2009.
Johnson called this election an important one because of all that’s at stake: “voting rights, our children’s education, health care for our seniors.”
“We just can’t let that happen,” she said.In the most heated and widely watched race, incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan is being challenged by Republican speaker of the state Legislature Thom Tillis. Tillis – with the wide support of conservatives – ushered through the Legislature a host of new voting laws that are among the most stringent in the nation. He has also supported policy around reproductive rights that has made him a foe to women’s and pro-choice groups.
“It seems like they just want us to go back from what our ancestors have fought for,” said Alexis Anderson, 21, a senior at Bennett.
Members of the student government association participated in “dorm storms,” going from room to room informing students about new voting laws and on candidates running for office.
But voting isn’t a difficult sell on campus, students and administration said.
“This is what we do at Bennett,” said senior Kennisha Davis, 21.
“We’re the next generation,” said senior Jordan Robinson, 21. “Our decisions will impact future generations, our future children. We have to make sure we’re moving forward and not stepping back.”